Operatives on both sides of the aisle are in agreement over at least one thing following the year’s elections: Bob Hugin wouldn’t make a good candidate for governor in 2021.
Though there’s some disagreement between Republican and Democratic agents on the particulars, but the broad strokes of Hugin’s weaknesses as a candidate are roughly the same. He’s got too much baggage, and his money won’t convince New Jersey voters to carry it.
Some unsuccessful statewide candidates were able to build on their losing campaign to win a subsequent statewide election. Christine Todd Whitman was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb in her run against Bill Bradley in 1990, but after coming within three points of an upset, she became the immediate front runner to run for governor in 1993.
After Jim McGreevey nearly ousted Whitman in the 1997 gubernatorial race, he ran unopposed in the 2001 Demcoratic primary.
But McGreevey and Whitman exceeded expectations in their statewide bids. Hugin did not.
Hugin spent $36 million on a U.S. Senate bid this year, but lost to Bob Menendez by 11 percentage points.
“He’s too aligned with Trump, and more importantly, he’s too aligned with Christie, not only because of all the help that he gave Christie but because of all the help that Christie gave him,” a Democratic operative said. “I think that Chris Christie will be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats in the next gubernatorial election.”
Christie wasn’t anywhere near popular when he left office, and while he may not technically be the state’s least popular governor, the 15% approval rating he earned towards the end of his tenure beats out the low approvals of former Gov. Jim Florio, whose legacy centers around unpopular tax hikes that ended a sizeable number of Democratic careers.
Christie even loses on approvals to former President Richard Nixon, who had a 19% approval rating in the state four months before he resigned.
Though, Christie will have been out of office for close to four years by the time the next gubernatorial election reaches its conclusion, and it’s possible voters won’t have much memory of his eight years in office.
That likely wouldn’t help Hugin, who’d more than likely be attacked for his ties to the former governor and President Donald Trump in any run for elected office. The view among Republicans is that the latter, not the former, would be the deadlier association.
“While some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would like to continue to see Chris Christie as the ultimate boogieman, I think for Bob Hugin to run for governor, I think the Donald Trump stuff more than the Chris Christie stuff will be a problem,” a Republican operative said.
While Hugin’s money might be alluring to some Republicans, it didn’t do much to help him in this year’s election, which Hugin lost to Sen. Bob Menendez by about 10 points.
That might give pause to state party officials who, on both sides of the aisle, are typically infatuated with self-funders.
The thinking among Democrats is that the GOP would be well served by a candidate like congresswoman-elect Mikie Sherrill, meaning a candidate with a solid resume and no ties to unpopular elected officials.
“I’m not saying Phil Murphy’s not vulnerable, I’m saying that I don’t think he’s the person to take out Phil Murphy,” a Democratic operative said, referring to Hugin.
Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, who lost the 2017 GOP primary to Kim Guadagno, has spent the last year, at least, gearing up to run in 2021.
All of that isn’t to say that Hugin’s hasn’t at least been considered for the role.
“I’ve heard this from a couple of people, and I’ve heard even during the campaign if he didn’t win, if he was respectable, maybe there’s a chance for him to stick around, stay relevant, stay involved, write some checks, whatever, help recruit some candidates and then position himself for ’21 because of his ability to raise and or write himself a check,” the Republican operative said.
But, that was before Hugin’s loss, and Republican opinions of a Hugin for governor run have soured since his defeat last Tuesday.
“Given the fact that Democratic governors do not have a history of getting reelected, if my party then puts up Bob Hugin after what we just saw, then we’re doing it to ourselves,” the GOP operative said.